Hippocrates, Father of Modern Medicine, wrote “The key to good health rests on having a daily aromatic bath and scented massage.” While that may sound like pampering to us now, Hippocrates was putting his finger on something much more medicinal… Essential Oils.
Essential oils have been used as medicine throughout time, but their distillation was first credited to the Persians in the 1000 BC. The narrative of essential oils stretches back much further than that though. Cave paintings in Dordogne, France estimated to be 20,000 years old depict the use of medicinal plants in day-to-day life. Herbalism is the most timeworn remedy known to mankind, and as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
While examples of medicinal use of essential oils can be cited far and wide, perhaps the most prolific is by the ancient Egyptians. They were employed in cosmetology, embalming, religious settings, ointments, perfumes, incense and as medicine. The Ebers Papyrus covers over 700 drugs, the vast majority of which are herbs that are still being distilled into essential oils today. (1)
During the same era, the Ancient Chinese and Indian civilizations used essential oils in similar fashion. In the fundamental doctrine of Chinese medicine, 黄帝内经, Huangdi Neijing, or simply The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (221-206BC) the use of herbs and plants as essential oils are outlined as necessary for a holistic approach to self-care. In Ancient China and India, jasmine was used as a general cure all tonic for the whole body. Rose oil was distributed as an antidepressant and a supplement for the liver. Chamomile was administered for headaches, dizziness, and the common cold.
Over 100 of the 224 drugs mentioned in the Huangdi Neijing are plants that are still used as essential oils today. (2) In the Americas, Indigenous peoples used approximately 2,500 of the 20,000 native plant species for medicinal purposes. While China, India, and Egypt are the oldest examples of essential oil proponents, examples of similar practice were found in Greece, Africa, Indonesia, Tibet, The Middle East and Australia. Essential oils have an integral part in traditional medicine throughout the span of human civilization, both in the past and the present.
A variety of essential oils have risen to popularity in modern time and in forthcoming blog posts I’ll delve further into them, but first and foremost I want to highlight a few of the greatest hits of my daily routine.
My favorite is tea tree oil; it’s a veritable medicine cabinet in a bottle with its anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant, insecticide and stimulant properties. A little on your scalp can help with dandruff. A touch on your chest can combat congestion, and a splash in your pits can cut those less than desirable scents post workout. Got pests? Throw a little tea tree on for an all-natural insect repellent. I personally throw a dab on my scalp and temples for headaches or for a boost on those tough Monday mornings when the coffee isn’t quite cutting it. Just a touch and I’m ready to go! Just be careful to never orally ingest tea tree oil or get it in your eyes as side effects include, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, confusion, drowsiness and hallucinations. Kids and pregnant/breastfeeding women should avoid tea tree.
My second go to oil is Peppermint oil! This is one that you see commonly in many products we all use daily and most of the time we don’t realize that we are getting a dose of essential oils. Peppermint shows up in tea, ice cream, chewing gum, and toothpaste. Just like tea tree, peppermint has a long list of benefits in its repertoire. It’s an expectorant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, antispasmodic, and antimicrobial. I like to use it on headaches in similar fashion to tea tree. I put a drop on my tongue as a natural breath freshener or as a cure to light heartburn, but don’t over-due it with sublingual application as it could cause a headache or exacerbate the heartburn. I use it most frequently for its calming effect. A small wipe across the base of my neck or a dab on my forehead gives me a slight buzzing, stimulated feeling and a wave of calm. Whenever I’m feeling a little stressed or anxious, peppermint peps me right up!
The last major player in my day to day routine is Lavender oil. Aside from its pleasant calming scent, it has a bevy of health benefits at its disposal. I’ve found it to have great effect on the occasional pimple. Got a mild kitchen burn, insect bite or a healing cut? Lavender soothes the wound and provides some pain relief. Whenever I get congested, I put a few drops in my humidifier which not only smells great, but clears up my stuffy nose and chest. I apply it to my pillow when I’m having a tough time falling asleep, and it does just the trick.
From the ancient Persians to behind my bathroom mirror, essential oils have played a starring role in the medicine throughout time. Check back for more facts, tips, and profiles on the topic of essential oils and their implementations.